Sunday, November 28, 2021

DM Comfort Level

 I ran a session of my Star Wars d6 campaign a few hours ago. And while I'm still not 100% up on all the rules (especially the effects of all the Force powers), and should probably make a better cheat sheet for myself...I mean GM reference!...I feel like I'm a lot more comfortable with the system. I went through more than half the game before I needed to look something up in the rulebook, only to realize I'd left the actual books on the bookshelf in the other room. Since my PDF reader was acting strangely, I took a break to go get it, and carried on with the game. But for the most part, I had enough information in my adventure notes to run the game. 

That's a good feeling. In fact, after the game was over, I briefly considered if I wanted to make this game my main game, and wind up West Marches. I'm still enjoying WM, but some of the players seem a little less engaged these days. But then, several WM players don't care to play Star Wars, while one player has decided he would rather play Star Wars and has opted out of future WM games. My boys still enjoy both, so I'll probably keep things the way they are now. But it is something worth considering as I get more and more comfortable with the d6 system. 

Tonight's game almost didn't happen. Jeff had planned to run his weird GURPS/Palladium mashup game this evening, but since I don't play in it, I had no idea. This was my normally scheduled weekend to run West Marches, but I was in a Star Wars mood, and so were my boys. It wasn't until I'd scheduled the game that Jeremy told me about Jeff's game. But since my game started at 8, and Jeff's was scheduled to start at 9:30, he offered to start at 10pm instead. And he showed up to play in my game, too. 

We only had 2 hours, so I tried to start things off as soon as possible. Table talk was at a minimum tonight, which helped things go smoothly.

The heroes were contacted by Bumpomo the Hutt, whose daughter they had rescued in my first d6 Star Wars game (roughly based on the plot of Shaft [1971]). Bumpomo owed a favor to the local rebels, and one of their captains had been captured by the Imperials and was being transferred to the Citadel (Clone Wars fans might remember that place). The mission was to intercept the transport ship, extract the captain, and then rendezvous with a rebel ship in the Concord Dawn system. 

The party used some funds from Bumpomo to improve their stock YT-1300 freighter, adding better shields and a heavy ion cannon. When they got to the Lola Sayu system, they jammed the imperial communications and surprised the transport. Shots from the party's Mandalorian (son #1) on the laser cannon and Bulldogman Jedi (son #2) on the ion cannon took out the transport's two TIE fighter escort. Another blast from the ion cannon incapacitated the transport. 

The party docked, and as they were trying to find a computer terminal port to have one of their droids access the computer, a pair of KX enforcer droids attacked. The KX have strong armor, but lucky shots managed to stun the first one, then it was taken out with an ion grenade from the party's smuggler. Laser shots from several characters managed to stun and then destroy the other one. 

And that was all the time we had. The shopping for ship upgrades actually took the longest part of the session. The starship combat (our first time using the rules) worked really well. I used the simple Close/Medium/Long range zones of ship proximity from the 1st edition rules, rather than playing things out on a grid, and it worked really well. Of course, the party is lucky that they got the drop on the imperials, because the TIE fighters might have done some serious damage to their ship if they'd had a chance to react.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

A Novel form of Exploration

Usually when we think of exploration in RPGs, we're talking about one of three things: exploration of the imagined game world (dungeons, wilderness, settled lands); exploration of character (role play); exploration of the rule systems (optimization/min-maxing, rules lawyering). 

My friend Jeremy, over the past few years, has been embarked on a novel form of RPG exploration. He's exploring varieties of rule sets. Now I know he's not the first person to ever do something like this, but I call it novel mostly because it's a form of game exploration that we don't often discuss.

I remember when he first pitched the idea to me. He wanted to run lots of impromptu pick up games, each time using a different rule set in a different setting (or sometimes the same setting, with characters transferred over to the new system). I remember giving him some pointers on what I thought he would need to do to make the idea work. I don't remember exactly what I said to him, but things like having pregen PCs to pick up and play was definitely one of them. 

Over the past few years, he's run all sorts of rule sets. His preference for games runs towards the grimdark, so sometimes the games feel pretty much the same regardless of the rules we're using. But we have been able to try out lots of those games that we've looked at but figured we might never play. 

I haven't really been into it much lately though, but to be honest I was not super fond of the idea when Jeremy pitched it. While getting to try all these games sounds good, my gaming time is limited. And it kinda sucks to always have to make (or select) new characters, figure out how things work in an unfamiliar game (both rules mechanics wise and setting wise), and to always be starting at level 1 over and over again (something I'm pretty sure I warned him against doing that he didn't heed). 

I'm not posting this to criticize Jeremy or his methods. I do think what he's doing is interesting. But it is also a bit frustrating that we never get to play a rule set long enough to really get a feel for it. We also don't get to run characters long enough to get a feel for them, either. And sometimes the games just feel a bit pointless. Especially in systems that are more story-game influenced and advancement is arbitrary or keyed to number of sessions played. 

Without a solid game-driving objective (like XP for GP, or even XP for combat), and without enough game sessions to figure out who our characters are or what in-universe goals we might want to be accomplishing, the sessions sometimes feel either rudderless or railroady. To be clear, Jeremy isn't railroading us, but it can feel like it when we know so little about the settings. 

And now I'm being negative again. Honestly, I didn't start this post with the intent to criticize what Jeremy's doing or how he's doing it. Jeremy if you're reading, sorry!

So, getting back to the idea at hand: Lots of one shots or mini campaigns, each with a different rule set and different characters. 

It's kinda fun for a side campaign. I've always got more character ideas that I can come up with. We do get to try lots of systems. It's interesting to see different ideas for RPGs put into practice. And it can help identify interesting game mechanics or stylistic choices that I might want to borrow (or to avoid at all costs!). 

But the down side, as I've mentioned, is that these Baskin Robbins sample spoon games don't satisfy the way a Thanksgiving Feast ongoing campaign does.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Marching On in the West Marches

 I'm preparing to run my West Marches game this weekend. It's been a little while, what with the funeral and my sons being sick and general business. I just updated the player map with the hexes that were explored in the previous session and thought why not stick it up here as well? I think the last time I did that was 2 years ago in this post. You can see that in two years of mostly twice a month sessions, they've explored a fair amount, but are still relatively close to the home town (middle right). Lots of white space left to explore.

As you can see, I started adding old school terrain markers on the map to help the players distinguish the terrain types. The key to interesting numbered areas is here: 

1. Silverwood (the home town) on the Gallandus River

2. Scorpion Shrine (Goblin Hills)

3. Moon Temple (White Woods)

4. Sahuagin Lair (White Woods)

5. The Caves of Chaos (Goblin Hills)

6. Centaur/Green Flame Temple (Tiger Home)

7. Long Cliff (Whispering Forest)

8. Abandoned Elven Outpost (Black Woods)

9. Border of Dead Woods (Dead Woods)

10. Chimera Shrine (Dead Woods

11. Neanderthal Village (Hellhorse Plains)

12. Quasqueton (Cloud Lands)

13. Ruins where tribal dragonborn camp (North Moor)

14. Haunted House (Dead Woods)

15. Mimir’s Well (Dead Woods)

16. Knight’s Pavilion Encampment/Endless Tournament (Far Downs)

17. Blue Dragon (deceased)’s Lair (Far Downs)

18. The Hall of Power (The Folded Lands)

19. Gemstone Tree (Black Woods)

20. Elven Spire in Quicksand Mire (Goblin Hills)

21. Twin Isle Lake (Hellhorse Plains)

22. Dark Druid Circle (Haunted Woods)

23. The Moathouse (Haunted Woods)

24. Obsidian Ridges (The Folded Lands)

25. Fairy Kingdom of King Louhi (White Woods)

26. Ruins of Xak Tsaroth (Voodoo Bayou)

27. Centaur Ranch (Tiger Home)

28. Dragon Hill (Hellhorse Plains)

29. Cyclopskin Trading Post (Hellhorse Plains)

30. Aboleth Ford, Dragontail River (Far Downs)

31. Boiling Lake (Folded Lands)

32. Petrified Forest (Cloud Lands)

33. Pavillion (Whispering Forest)

34. Hobgoblin Castle (Whispering Forest)

35. Cloud Lake Monastery (Cloud Lands)

36. Non-Euclidean Fortress (Cloud Lands)

37. Haunted Lodge (Brooding Forest)

38. Forgotten Chapel (South Prairie)

39. Halfling Village (South Prairie)

40. Red Feather Elf Tribe (Elfin Vale)

41. The Gates of Barovia (Brooding Forest)

42. Cozy Cottage (Brooding Forest)

43. Ancient Amphitheatre (Hellhorse Plains)

44. CCCP Obelisk (Voodoo Bayou)

Monday, November 8, 2021

Movie Review: Eternals (spoiler free)

Yesterday, I took the family to see Marvel's Eternals. It's a different sort of MCU movie, for sure. I can see why there are a lot of people trashing it (some of them before they had even watched it). And I can't say I was super excited for it. I don't know much about the characters from the comics. They didn't play a big part in most of the comics I read back in the day. But I knew it would have ramifications in future MCU projects, and we hadn't been to a movie for a little while, so we went. 

Does Eternals have cursing in it? [Mandatory question because parents searching for this get sent here.] A little. Not as much as Black Widow. It's not really that sort of movie that needs a lot of bad language.

My quick capsule review? A well made movie. The story was very much character driven, with no obvious deus ex machina moments. It had the high level of special effects we expect from Marvel/Disney (they have the money for it). The action scenes were good. There were some good comic relief moments, although a lot less than in other more recent MCU titles. The actors were cast well for their roles, and the movie did a good job introducing a whole bunch of brand new characters. Some great cinematography in a globe spanning and millennium spanning narrative. 

But was it good? It was very talky. There were action scenes, but a whole lot of talk in between. And not the snappy patter of an early Kevin Smith film or a Tarantino film that is just fun to listen to even if nothing much is happening in the scene. That, I think, is the weak point of the movie. 

I liked it, but the more serious tone (even more serious in tone than Thor or Winter Soldier), the 'more talk less rock' pacing, made it a bit less enjoyable than Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy. I think, though, this movie will hold up better than some of the other MCU films because of that, and because of the technical skill from the script to the production value to the way the film was shot and edited. 

Eternals is a good (well made) movie, but not so much a fun (exciting, engaging) movie. I liked it, but it's probably not in my top 10 MCU film list.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Director's Cut

Last night, obviously, I was not in the best of moods. I'm in a much better mood today. Friday night, the kids and wife are in bed, I made some progress on my work this afternoon. Feeling relaxed.

Thanks to JB for his comment, though, it did help put things in perspective. I like what Alexis has been posting about his Other D&D. I like it a lot. But as JB said, to reach that level of detail and setting knowledge to allow the sort of off the cuff gaming that Alexis is encouraging takes quite a bit of effort and keeping things always running in the background of your mind. And for me, right now, this year at least, that's the problem. These days, the back of my mind is taken up with work and family stuff. We've got a lot to juggle right now. So gaming has to take a hit. And that's fine. When things slow down, I can pick up the gaming steam again. 

And also, JB's comment made me think about the fact that even the cheapest, cheesiest Roger Corman flick must have had a script bible of some sort to help keep characters, settings, and situations sorted out. Every movie and especially TV shows need these. They provide all the background details that allow for meaningful drama to happen. If an actor or director is unsure what the character's motivation in a scene is or should be, they can turn to this and should be able to work out an answer. 

Basically, Alexis's method of Other D&D is telling us to make a script bible for our game world. And then to know it. Or at least the parts that are immediately relevant right now. We don't need to know the name of every villager. But if we know the village, and we know the types of people (culture, socio-economic status, professions) we can invent realistic villagers on the spot when needed. Alexis is telling us to prepare just enough info, and KNOW that info, so we can not only invent NPCs or monster encounters or whatever as needed, we can run them in a way that is both verisimilitudinous with our real world expectations and also in a way that suits the game world and challenges the PCs. 

Yes, it's a lot of work. But as JB pointed out, it can start small. Alexis has been running his game world for 40 years. I've been running my West Marches for only 3 1/2. No need to feel overwhelmed by the scope of Alexis's world building compared to my own. Just keep working at it so I know my setting (I do), and the types of peoples that inhabit it (again, I do), and the sorts of places that could be visited (I do). I know all this stuff. And I run the game as best I can in a way that requires the players to be active participants in the world, rather than reactive ones. In time, I'll get better at it. As I mentioned last post, some things Alexis is encouraging are things I used to do, but stopped doing because like many I was fooled by the people telling us we could get by with just the facade. The cardboard Western town in Blazing Saddles that the bad guys rampage through. 

My campaign is more than that now. Not quite as real as the real world yet. And I may never develop it as highly as Alexis has developed his game. But that's OK. I'll make it as well as I can for now, and just keep plugging away at it. 

It doesn't matter whether it's a Scorsese, Peckinpaw, Brooks, Tarantino, Spielberg, Corman, Lee, the other Lee, Kubrick, Wachowski, Miller, or any other director's movie. Serious or silly, profound or profane, convoluted or laid bare. They all involve script bibles to try and keep things sorted, and in their own ways they're trying to make something real and meaningful.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Malaise and Movie Directors

Not much posting here the past month or so. I've been busy. My father-in-law lost his 6+ year battle with lung cancer two weeks ago (the doctors had given him 6 months when diagnosed almost 7 years ago, so it's not like it was unexpected). My older son has three separate health issues (orthodontic work being the most expensive, but the others pretty time consuming with hospital stays and doctor visits...thank God for Korean universal national health insurance, and low cost no-fuss supplemental private insurance for what the national system doesn't cover!). I have two academic papers under review at the moment, both submitted mid-October -- so revisions from peer review coming up later in the month most likely. And planning/researching background info for the next paper. Oh, and teaching classes and doing a weekly radio show and general husband/father duties.

Despite all that, I've been tinkering away at both East Marches and my Star Wars d6 game when I've got some time. The newest SW adventure, based on feedback from the end of the previous session, is more or less ready to go. I could run it as it is now, but adding some detailed stats for a few NPCs that could be encountered will save me from having to wing it in the game. But I could easily wing it. Smuggler? Sure, he's got...5D in Space Transports. But having some of that stuff already on paper before the game will make me more consistent. This weekend, though, most likely I won't have time to run it. Or rather, I have some time Sunday afternoon, but my older son will be at his Python coding class all afternoon so he'd miss the game, and he's into his Mando character just like my younger son is into his Jedi character (who did a lot of shopping between sessions, including a new C1 series astromech droid companion/sidekick -- yes, we've been watching Rebels). 

I skipped the previous scheduled session of my West Marches game because of the funeral. I could schedule a make-up session this Saturday night, but I'm not really in the mood. I feel like re-tooling some parts of it, especially the areas where I dropped classic D&D/AD&D modules into it. They've found  or had solid rumors of a few of them (Caves of Chaos, Quasqueton, Xak Tsaroth all explored, The Moathouse partially explored, and rumors of White Plume Mountain & the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief have been heard). I've actually placed a couple other modules that they haven't heard about or found clues to yet, and I had plans for even more even farther out. Now, though, after the long slog in Xak Tsaroth that in the end wasn't super fun for me (although the players seemed to enjoy it a lot), I'm thinking of stripping out these modules they haven't encountered yet. Maybe replace them with similar themed but smaller dungeons of my own. I've found that for West Marches style play, small dungeons of a dozen or fewer rooms work best. But again, not much will to get cranking on modifying that stuff at the moment. Real life has drained me. 

Anyway, enough personal blather. What about the movie directors? 

I've mentioned before that when I was gaming in Tokyo, Steve and Pete dubbed me the Mel Brooks DM (to Steve's Quentin Tarantino and Pete's Terry Gilliam). I think it's an interesting shorthand to let players know what sort of games to expect. NOT that I think RPG play should try to tell stories the way a movie does, just that in my games, expect plenty of humor and tropes stood on their heads. In Steve's games, things could go from conventional to very bloody on the turn of a dime. Pete had lots of whimsy but also a dark undercurrent to his games. 

I've been reading and enjoying Alexis's recent series of posts on how to create a more compelling, deeper campaign world and use that in play to make D&D play more meaningful. Some of the advice he gives matches things I do now. Some match things I used to do but stopped somewhere along the way. Some are things I've never tried. Part of me wants to really up my game (I think my Chanbara campaign burned out quickly because I wasn't doing enough of these things, and it made the game feel cheap to me). 

But another part of me, the part with malaise from all the real life stuff I'm dealing with mentioned above, is just like, fuck it. There's room for deep, epic Oscar contender films, small, personal Oscar contender films, big damn roller coaster blockbusters, scrappy independent films, avant-garde art house films, cheap comedies, and endless remakes and reboots and continuations of old IP in cinema. 

Sure, a game by Alexis is going to be pretty awesome, the way watching a finely made film is deeply satisfying. But you know, I still enjoy the MCU movies despite them being fairly formulaic. I could watch Dazed and Confused or Aliens or Austin Powers for the 100th time and still enjoy it. Nothing wrong with some sometimes campy special effects in a John Carpenter movie. Kevin Smith is working on Clerks 3 and I'm actually looking forward to it despite most of his recent films not being so great. 

I hope Alexis, if he's reading this (and he probably will get around to it eventually), understands what I'm trying to say. I'm not trying to knock what he's been doing. I admire it a lot. And I don't doubt him when he says his method has elevated his games and could elevate mine as well. I want to give something like that a go. But honestly, right now I just don't have the mental energy to commit to that sort of game. I'm doing fine with my Mel Brooks West Marches and my Star Wars game that is a bit more Spielberg to be honest. Maybe after they've run their course, and life has settled down a bit more, I'll be ready to take on a Kurosawa epic of a campaign. I think my players could really dig into it.